Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg sat down with the Capitol press corps today for a chat on a variety of issues. One question that came up was about the 1975 law known as MICRA -- the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act -- which limits the amount courts can award victims of medical negligence for pain and suffering to $250,000.
It's an explosive issue in the state Capitol that pits lawyers against doctors -- two influential interest groups that few legislators want to cross.
Attorneys have mounted a publicity campaign to make the case that the the $250,000 cap needs to be lifted. Many lawyers won't take on medical malpractice cases, they argue, because the award limit is too low to make it worth their time. While the cost of everything else has risen in the last 38 years, they argue, the MICRA cap has not, leaving families with injured loved ones inadequately compensated for their duress. Consumer Attorneys of California and Consumer Watchdog say they plan to file an initiative this summer if the Legislature doesn't take action to lift the cap.
Doctors, hospitals and other medical groups take the opposite view. They say lifting the $250,000 cap on damages would make malpractice insurance more expensive, ultimately making health care more costly for consumers and causing some clinics to go out of business. The California Medical Association and other health groups are urging lawmakers to maintain the status quo.
Steinberg thinks the sides need to get together.